Arsenal (0) 1 - 0 (0) Man City|
Highbury, Saturday 22nd October 2005
Lauren Toure Cygan Clichy
Fabregas Flamini Gilberto Pires
A pretty dire game, saved only (in the entertainment stakes)
by Danny Mills' traditional pantomime villain act and by a
comical penalty from Robert Pires. But we won, and coming after a
hard-fought Champs League game, and against a form team, that
feels like a bonus.
We started well, Dennis Bergkamp chipping into their box for Cesc Fabregas
but an alert defender got to the ball in front of him. City hoofed
it up our end and Jens Lehmann had to come out to grab the ball
before Vassell got there.
Bergkamp wasted a half chance after Thierry Henry stepped over a pass
to let it run through to him, Dennis then played the ball back in the
direction of Henry's continued run but there was a defender obviously
in the way.
This was to become something of a feature. I've never seen an Arsenal
team at Highbury give the ball away so easily so often.
We had a few more breaks. Henry's long ball forward was a bit too strong
for Dennis (you really want the pair of them the other way round for
moves like that). Then Dennis played the ball deep on the right for
Lauren to run onto, and the right back hit a dangerous low cross
which Henry got to at the near post and turned goalwards only to see
it deflected over.
On 10 minutes City had their first attack. Musampa was put in on their left
and his cross/shot was blocked by Lauren for a corner. The short corner came to
Musampa on that side again and again Lauren blocked for a corner. This time
it was played into the box well but the ref blew up for an Arsenal
free-kick as Mills had blatantly shoved Lehmann.
Then we had possibly our best chance of the game from open play.
Great close wing play by Lauren Cesc and Mathieu Flamini on the right ended
with Cesc releasing Lauren down the line. He crossed for Henry just outside
the box. He was tackled but stayed alert and got hold of the loose ball
himself. He squared for Pires who'd got into an unmarked position
near the penalty spot, but Bobby got right under the shot and it went miles
over. A pretty bad miss, but by the end it wouldn't be the Pires error
people would be talking about.
The Danny Mills show was in full swing, particularly a double act with
Pires. The ref had a word with Mills halfway through the half after a
foul on Bobby. Then Bobby returned the compliment and picked the ball up
and kind of swung it at Mills. Not particularly violent or time-wasting
but the ref deemed it worthy of a booking.
City weren't really threatening much. I think they missed Cole quite a bit,
Sibierski was partnering Vassell if anyone. Lehmann was commanding his box well
when they did hoof the ball in.
We got a free kick which came to nothing because of an Arsenal foul
in their box. It was up the other end of the pitch but I suspect it
was Pires on Mills again. As the players came back away from the
City end Henry had a pointed word with Bobby.
Vassell was played in down their right and cut the ball back for
Musampa who hit a soft shot through a crowd, which went straight to Lehmann.
Henry got the ball outside their box to the right (after a great ball by
Lauren anticipating Thierry's diagonal run), and juggled the ball
up before overhead-kicking it into the box. No-one was expecting it
(he's done it often enough now, surely?) and it crossed the face of goal
10 minutes before the break Vassell again created a chance for Musampa.
Cygan had done well to stay with Vassell and deny him a shotting
chance as he broke into the box on their right. He squared for Musampa
whose fierce rising shot would have given Lehmann no chance this time,
but it missed Lehmann's top right corner by a whisker.
Lauren got fouled by a high challenge from Vassell. I noticed Lauren
seemed a bit dazed by it as he fell over a couple of times afterwards.
But someone standing near me in the Clock End said that he'd spotted
Lauren falling over a few times before the incident.
Soon after the start of the second half Pires went down on the left
touchline. I don't think a foul was given but Mills was happy to stir
things up a bit more by stepping on Bobby's hand. Bobby reacted,
shoving Mills away, and got booked for his trouble. Very soon after,
Dennis went in hard on Mills. There really is not love lost between
Mills and any of the Arsenal team (first noticed by Arseweb in a
4-1 win over Boro
in January 2004, but perhaps it goes back further than that? Certainly does! see addendum at bottom of report below).
We then had a particularly bad 10 minutes or so of giving the ball away and generally
looking a bit fazed. City weren't doing anything particularly special but
I guess they'd been told at halftime to get stuck in a bit more.
Then 13 minutes after the break Flamini burst through the middle, riding
a couple of challenges, and slipped the ball to the right for Lauren, who
put his cross straight out. It had been our first attack since the opening
couple of minutes of the half, and fair play to Flamini (having a
terrific game, I thought) for getting things going again. It sparked
a much better spell, which led quickly to the opening goal.
Toure won the ball back in the centre-circle and charged forward with it,
before sliding it into the left side of the box for Henry to chase.
David James came over to try to get the ball but Henry got their
just in time, touched the ball forward before James could get a touch,
and tumbled over the keeper's arms. Pires stepped up to take the penalty
and (following a last-second word in his ear from Henry) blasted it
high to James's right (a much better penalty from Pires than his last
couple of efforts).
So we were ahead, and attacking more, but still the hospital passes
came thick and fast. It must have given City hope because they got a
few more meaningful attacks together. Sibierski shot straight at
Lehmann and then Reyna hit a long-range effort that was always swerving wide.
Half an hour after the restart, Bergkamp was put into the box on the right,
but there were 2 defenders in front of him.
He tricked his way past Musampa and ran straight into Jordan, and the ref
didn't hesitate to point to the spot. Neither penalty had been cast-iron,
is has to be said, and one could understand the City fans anger at having
both of them given. Before long, I think they were glad that the second had been given.
It was curious that Pires stepped up to take it again. Normally Henry gives them
to Bobby (or Lauren) only when it was Henry that was fouled for the penalty.
Turns out they had a plan. Bobby took a run-up and then tried to pass the ball
softly to his left, the idea being that Henry would come into the box
to score. But when he waved his foot at the ball he just managed to scuff the
top of the ball and though he clearly made contact, the ball didn't move.
There seemed to be some confusion. Henry ran in anyway and basically just ran past,
presumably down the line where Pires was supposed to have played the ball.
Bobby didn't seem sure what he was allowed to do. He'd touched the ball
so couldn't touch it again, but it hadn't moved, so was it in play? The ref
cleared things up by blowing for a City free-kick. Presumably the basis for
this was Pires playing the ball twice, although I'm pretty sure he hadn't.
If there was a consensus in the Clock End (Arsenal were, unusually, attacking our
end in the second half) it was that the ref should have blown his whistle and
called for the penalty to be re-taken (as you would for a free kick
that didn't move by the distance of the ball's circumference), but that we
couldn't really complain!
As the players moved back upfield, TV replays later showed that Mills made sure
of rubbing it in. You didn't have to be a professional lip-reader to spot the
word "tw*t" and, to be fair to Mills, someone had to say it.
Later on Henry was keen to take responsibility for it himself. The players
had tried it in training but hadn't planned on doing it in a match until
the moment arrived (I guess having a second penalty in the same match made
them think of it when they wouldn't have otherwise). Fortunately it didn't end up
mattering as far as points were concerned. Vassell headed the ball in the net soon
after but it was given offside.
Dennis got booked for a clear shove just inside their half. They lofted the
ball into our box and it fell for Vassell who scuffed the (admittedly difficult) chance
through to Lehmann.
Mills was subbed.
Henry hit a lovely pass into the box to meet Cesc's run through the middle
of a static defensive line, but his first touch was too heavy and made it
possible for James to come and claim. Not sure if Cesc knew what he was doing
here to be honest, it didn't look like he'd decided which way to play it.
In the last minute of the 90, Henry nearly created another. Only Cesc and Flamini
were supportign him as he bore down on their box on the right. There were a
few defenders around but Henry slipped a crafty ball between them, just beyond the far
post where Flamini managed to get to it, but the ball had gone too
deep for him to turn it back and he only hit the side-netting.
Not a great performance but a timely win. Note to Thierry and Bobby: it's nice that you want
to entertain us at all times, but sometimes we're just getting the points is
enough. Feel free to try it again, but please wait till we're 4 goals up
with minutes to go.
Many thanks to Phil Stevenson for responding to my question above about the history of the antipathy between Danny Mills and Arsenal players. Of course, since his Leeds days Mills has always been the "robust" type of player who likes to (try to) show up our "fancy dan foreigners" etc. But Phil reminded us specifically of the first game of the 2001/02 (double-winning) season, when Harte made mugs of us with a quick free-kick and United went on to beat us at Highbury. That day, Mills was "a particularly effective pain in the arse... and
brought half our team down like a lumber jack". I checked the
Arseweb match report from that day and, lo and behold, it's full of references to the Mills show, including multiple off-the-ball incidents involving Ashley Cole and Robert Pires. There were eleven bookings that day, including second yellow cards for both Lee Bowyer and... see if you can guess the other!